One of the unpleasant conclusions I've been forced to draw, reviewing experiences on the campuses giving slide show presentations about my visit to the Peoples Republic of China, is that a large body of our students is ill prepared for struggle. They exhibit nonchalance, ignorance or myopic self-centeredness about the Vietnamese struggle, the Chinese Revolution, the Cuban Revolution, even the African liberation struggles which more immediately "involve" us, as students are prone to say (as though we need be concerned only with those areas where Black presence is manifest). This North American madness, a resurgence of individualism (Do Your Own Thing) and alienation (all too visible in the re-emergence of Greeks, hair dye, "career" mania), cynicism and defeatism all demonstrate a marked retreat from the 60's.
There are invaluable lessons for us in the revolutionary thrusts of this age. They clarify what revolutionary change entails, what it means to transform society and organize it around human need and human worth rather than around profit and material status. First and foremost they teach us that oppressed people can take control of their lives. Twentieth century revolutions in the Third World demonstrate that the capacity of ordinary people, systematically underdeveloped people, is limitless when they are armed with a win mentality. And any examination of any of these struggles helps to bring sharply into focus who our enemy is.
I picture the map of the U.S. as an intricate network of hoses extending into the Third World: Brazil, Venezuela, Chile; Indochina, Thailand, South Korea; the Philipines; the oil nations of the Middle East and North Africa; Angola, Mozambique, South Africa, Zaire, Kenya; the West Indies. These hoses are one-way pipelines continuously sucking up others' resources and impoverishing the rest of the world.
But today the hoses are being axed. Vietnam, Cambodia, soon Thailand. Venezuela and Argentina are picking up the ax. Mozambique, Guinea Bissau, Cape Verde Island and Angola have hacked the hoses off. Even Portugal, upsetting the NATO Alliance. And Italy may be next.
The reduction of hoses means a reduction in available goods here. So the overconsumption of the U.S. is being halted from without. But the U.S. is a junky and will fight to keep on mainlining. And because we are here sharing in the spoils, however unequally, we will have to choose sides. Either we support imperialism or we defeat imperialism.
What I've attempted to do in the following discussion of China—a frustrating task in selection for there is so much to say — is focus on those aspects of change crucial to our understanding of "revolution.” Our task is not only to change the substructure and superstructure of capitalism (external order), but our consciousness/attitudes/behavior (internal order). A major aspect of our internal struggle is to overcome narcissism, opportunism, our self-obsessed American orientation and to develop a collective consciousness. One simple thing the Chinese have done is to design nursery smocks with the buttons in the back. Children then develop early the habit of attending to each other.
To Serve the People
The revolution in China has created a new society that has a human orientation, first and foremost. China is not more concerned with productive, material growth than with human development, despite the fact that she is a poor and "underdeveloped" nation. The socialist goals of realizing the equality of man and developing the goodness of man are the principles that determine the priorities in that society. Thus, the number one priority in China is the task of serving the people. And the remarkable achievements in this area over the past 25 years prove that such an agenda, however tremendous, can be accomplished when the commitment of the government and the people is unified and serious.
The most pressing social problems, those that most abuse the masses of people, were solved first. Thus China, the world's most populated nation, has conquered the problem of hunger and starvation—a particularly extraordinary feat considering the fact that she was in worse shape than India 30 years ago. At that time China was extremely vulnerable to floods and droughts, conditions which historically had produced recurrent famines and plagues and had her limited resources thoroughly exhausted from more than a decade of war. Applying the highest standards of technology, science and education, the Chinese people mobilized en masse to harness the waters and build irrigation systems. Several times as we traveled across the countryside by train, we saw brigades of what looked to be a thousand workers, soldiers as well as peasants, digging canals. Most had shovels and pick axes. (The army, a peoples army, not only engages in such public works projects, but is totally self-sufficient, growing its own food and making its own clothing so as not to burden the people with supporting its needs.) Chinese fields depict intensive-yield, horticultural cultivation. The plots are small, allowing greater access for watering and weeding. On a vegetable commune east of Kwangchow we even saw individually tied cabbage plants growing. No land is wasted. Constant effort is made to utilize every available space, including terracing mountainsides and draining swamps. Further, no pesticides or chemicals are used in food production. Thus, unlike the common practice in the U.S., swapping health for volume in production is not viewed as a beneficial short cut. Even so food prices have continued to drop since the Revolution.
Health care is another key area where determination and mass mobilization have produced enormous achievements. First, attacks were launched against widespread, infectious diseases. Result: no more venereal disease, small pox, malaria and polio. The "Ban the Fly" campaign typified the mass mobilization effort: everyone turned in a daily quota of dead flies until extermination was accomplished.
However, the anti-vice Banning Movement, which successfully rid China of drug addiction and prostitution, is perhaps the greatest testimonial to the ability of peoples government to eliminate social disease. In Shanghai, a city once known to the West as the players' capital of the world, we visited Ta Ching Lane, an area of the old Hwang Po neighborhood that before liberation boasted of an active nightlife of opium dens, ballrooms, brothels and casinos. We met with neighborhood workers, including former addicts and prostitutes, who described for us their former misery and how they overcame it. The first act of the new communist government was to outlaw the whorehouses and opium dens that had been licensed by the Kuomintang (KMT — the government led by Chiang Kai-Shek), the government import of narcotics, and all sale and use of dope. For three years the government allowed madames, pimps, proprietors, addicts and pushers to end their illicit activities on their own initiative. Then, in 1952, a broad mass campaign was organized. Ta Ching Lane was cordoned off, mass arrests were made and all opium and related paraphernalia confiscated. The government treated the prostitutes and addicts with medical attention, education and training. The special neighborhood committees that had been set up to help ferret out anyone involved with vice did propaganda work among drug addicts' families to encourage them to receive them back and help them break their habits. Prostitutes, many of whom had been sold into prostitution by their destitute parents, were allowed to return home to the countryside. The government's actions toward dealers, proprietors and pimps were more severe: education and prison terms, the length of the latter often being determined by the neighborhood residents. Those who confessed their crimes were labeled “bad elements" and allowed to reform through labor, which means they had restricted civil rights (couldn't vote, for instance) and were watched carefully by the general populace until the thorough reform of their anti-social habits could be adjudged on the basis of practice, not rhetoric. But, as Tchai Uh-mi, a former addict who couldn't successfully give up her habit before liberation because dope was always available, summed up: China could never have gotten rid of dope without a socialist government and mobilization of the masses, for Chiang Kai-Shek himself had been involved in the drug traffic. It's an instructive point, especially brought home as the U.S. Border Patrol fails to control low-flying, dope-smuggling planes, and then blames another government agency for their inability to use military equipment such as radar, sensors and faster planes.
Preventive medicine has received primary emphasis in New China, which makes sense if your priority is a healthy populace rather than a booming pharmaceutical industry as in America. Many simple preventive techniques are employed daily: morning exercises; the wearing of face masks when folks have colds to avoid spreading germs. For the same reason, stamps and envelopes must be glued and not licked. Eye massages are done twice a day in all the schools and in many factories where close-up work is performed, and are responsible for reducing the rate of near-sightedness nationwide by 70 percent.
The Chinese also pay close attention to occupational health. Special annual physicals are given by plant doctors, particularly in those industries where the work is known to be hazardous, like mines and mills. Moreover, their medical research focuses on the most prevalent job-related problems. Thus, it is understandable why the Chinese have achieved the ability to rejoin severed limbs, which occasionally occur from farm and industrial machine-related accidents, while our more technically advanced society has not. Fingers and hands, for example, can be rejoined within 36 hours of severance.
Believing good health to be a right rather than a privilege, the Chinese have taken steps to make medical care available to all. First, medicine and medical attention are cheap —free to retired workers and factory workers and half price to their families. (I paid full cost when I saw a doctor in Peking: 30 jiao (15$) for the visit, 70 jiao (35$) for the medicine.) Commune members pay two yuan per year, or approximately 1.5% of their cash income, which is paid in addition to a grain allowance. (The difference is that communes are collectively owned while factories are owned by the state.) By encouraging greater use of the less expensive, traditional Chinese medicine-acupuncture and medical herbs — medical costs have been on a decline since liberation. Secondly, training medical workers is a priority. Not only has the training of Barefoot Doctors ("para - professionals" instructed in first aid, simple diagnosis and treatment) vastly increased the supply of medical personnel, but the streamlining of curricula has shortened the training period of doctors, thereby more rapidly expanding their ranks. These strides are all the more astounding when one learns that less than two percent of the population had ever seen a doctor prior to 1949.
"Serve the People" has not only guided the provision of social services in other areas such as housing (under rapid construction, but still a problem), education (free to all), welfare (guaranteed employment and retirement income equal to 70 percent of wages) and the construction of an emergency, underground tunnel system that will enable the masses to survive a nuclear attack, but has also characterized the policies towards China's 54 minority peoples. The Koreans, Tibetans, Ta, Li, Mongolians and other non-Han Asians, six percent of the population that occupies 60 percent of the land, had for centuries been brutalized and suppressed by feudalistic landlords, warlords and the KMT armies. The new policy of the revolution is that the nationals must be served first and foremost. Priorities in Han education are the government of their autonomously administered regions, development of socialist culture and socialist construction, and increase of their population growth —in marked contrast to the strict birth control policy toward the Han majority.
The Peoples Republic has made the creation of a new socialist person its second priority. That task means developing a socialist consciousness in people, i.e. a sense of collective responsibility and self-reliance. If society is to serve the people, then the goal of everyone must be to work first for the general good, in the common interest, rather than out of personal motivation or concern, be it individual, family or department. Thinking of oneself first eventually breeds selfishness, opportunism, corruption and, ultimately, exploitation.
Moreover, if society is to espouse collective responsibility, it must be founded on collective participation. It is essential that the people themselves make the revolution (for it is their lives that they are to direct). Their wisdom and experience is manifold and important. Thus, leadership must not only rely on and learn from that wisdom, it must also nurture it, expand it. Furthermore, belief in self enables creative contribution. So the Chinese encourage initiative and experimentation. Mistakes teach and, therefore, are essential to growth (individual and state). Training the people to think politically and scientifically has facilitated the development of self-reliance, giving them the tools to do for themselves. Hence, the Chinese masses study the theoretical works of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Mao and utilize the principle therein to solve daily problems. For them, dialectical materialism is not an abstract dogma.
Learning self-reliance also has unleashed boundless determination among the people. Remember that old dictum "Where there's a will, there's a way"? The Chinese have proven it over and over, accomplishing "impossible" feats. The Russians, Americans and Germans —the supposed technical giants of the world — had all said, for example, that it was impossible to construct a bridge over the Yangtze (now Chang) River, because the currents are too strong, the winds too high and the silt too deep. Yet again by mobilizing everyone (often in their spare time), the Nanking area residents built it anyway. Even the fact that they had to take a year off at the very outset of the project to develop the special grade of high tensile steel needed (the foreign contract for it was canceled . . . aah . . . mysteriously) did not stop them. It is out of such practice that expertise develops and clarity of direction emerges.
Leadership in China offers an interesting contrast to ours. For in China, leadership is comprised of exemplary individuals, those who demonstrate in deed and thought their socialist consciousness, initiative, talent and will to serve the people. They are the most disciplined, the most self-reliant. It is these qualities that determine membership in the Peoples Liberation Army (PLA) and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), which is one reason these organizations command such respect in the new society. Prospective members must first be recommended and voted on by their peers (e.g. fellow production team members or class- mates) and by their production leaders or teachers and administrators. They are selected on the basis of their practice. And, in the case of the CCP, applicants must also undergo self-criticism before their production unit or class (or perhaps the entire school). Leadership by example!
But how does a society go about transforming behavior? The first job is to reorient thinking, to change attitudes from which undesirable behavior springs. The Chinese have employed the process of criticism and self-criticism to approach the task of thought reform (or socialization, if you will). By setting up the criticism/self-criticism process throughout the society — it is performed in regular group study sessions, in individual study and via rectification campaigns directed at criticizing a particular political line —the people of China examine themselves, their ideas and actions, according to the yardstick of what is best for the collective whole. Obviously, individualistic values and their influence on one's feelings and behavior must first be exposed, then addressed. The whole notion of thought reform clearly evinces a love of humanity and belief in the perfectability of man. The Chinese have a slogan: “Man's capacity for re-education is almost infinite." Their techniques show a desire to win: at all costs they are careful to avoid destroying a person's ego or self-esteem in the process. To win people you engage them, not badger them. It takes patience and time to discover root causes of conflict and to work out problems and differences. Discussion, debate, expose and coaxing are the tenets of this process. Coercion works against you and, consequently, is denounced. Thought reform takes time, but is rewarding in human terms. And without it, the revolution could not prevail. (For a full discussion of the thought reform process as rehabilitation in prison, see Allyn and Adelle Rickett, Prisoners of Liberation, Doubleday, 1972).
The third priority of the Peoples government is the resolution of contradictions in society and the elimination of social inequalities. The Chinese identify three main contradictions: urban vs. rural, industry vs. agriculture, and mental vs. manual labor, and view their resolution as important both ideologically and methodologically (as it relates to economic development).
Despite its enormous population, China is overwhelmingly a rural, peasant country. Over 80 percent of the people live in the countryside. As in most countries, the standard of living is lower among the farming folk than among city dwellers. (And since development has proceeded according to the principle of self-reliance, there are noticeable differences in economic welfare among the communes from region to region.) China's solution to these irregularities is to urbanize the countryside by setting up factories and to develop cultural (educational and commercial) centers. Thus the material benefits of city life will be available to the masses, without bringing the masses to the cities. Overcrowded population centers they don't want. In fact the migration trend is the reverse of what we experience here. City folk, particularly the educated young, are moving out to the countryside to help develop areas in greatest need, and factories, for example, are sending some of their best workers out to build similar plants "amidst the fields."
A rural country with agriculture the mainstay of her economy, China has felt the urgent need for industrial development to speed economic growth. However, the Chinese have sought not to let the exigencies of industrial growth preempt attention to the agricultural sector. (The people must be fed.) Their effort, then, is to make industry serve agriculture, rather than develop in lieu of it. Thus, technological innovations are geared to the needs of farming.
Eliminating the qualitative differences between intellectual and physical work is an essential matter in a worker/peasant society that is run by and for the laboring people. So values in China reflect the new order. The work of the masses is physical; therefore manual labor is respected, not despised. Intellectual talents are crucial, but useless without the capability of practical application. The children of China are trained that their country needs workers who can use both their muscles and minds. Intellectual, physical and political development, then, are equally stressed. The change in the status of work means that children are lauded for striving to be good carpenters as much as good architects, or good mechanics as much as engineers. (In fact the talent of the latter reflects the former.) Even more significant, the Chinese are breaking down the rigid role definitions of what the capabilities of workers and intellectuals are by, for example, incorporating the expertise of workers in matters of design and engineering and having the “experts" perform mechanical tasks. Further, the new status of workers is embodied in the literature and art of the new society, which thematically reflect worker consciousness, emotions and life experiences. The worker, then, is on the pedestal.
Revolution Is A Process
You miss the essence of the Chinese Revolution if you look only at its material achievements, for the process is equally important and instructive. And it is a process that the Chinese people learned about as they participated in it.
Clearly the task of transforming an entire society and establishing a new order that benefits the masses of people is an enormous undertaking. The task of change, however, was not directed and carried out by some benevolent leadership body, but by the people themselves. “Serve the People" was the dictum, yes, but rely on the people and learn from the people were equally important guidelines. "Dictatorship of the proletariat" means that the workers and peasants of China have become involved in and taken hold of the reigns of command of their lives —of their workplaces, of their neighborhoods, of their army, of their government — working for the collective need and benefit, rather than for individual interest and whim.
By the time of the Cultural Revolution in 1966, the Chinese masses understood that, above all, revolution meant hard work, initiative and self-reliance, demanding great zeal, commitment, sacrifice and study. It should be remembered that no one had a blueprint of how to make revolution, of how to go about making the necessary changes in the various aspects of society to correspond with the new values of equality and collectivity. Peasants were faced with the job of carrying out land reform, of figuring out an equitable distribution of property and implements and, later, of how to collectivize and organize communes. Similarly, university personnel-teachers, students and administrators — were charged with reorganizing their institutions according to the tenets of the new society. Some had expected the liberating army or Party cadre (person of authority) to come in and supervise the specific changes to be made for them. It was frequently a task that took a long time to work out, involving much trial and error. In the same vein, prison officials undertook the task of re-educating counter-revolutionaries and criminals, guiding them in the process of discovering the root of their thinking and recognizing how their self-orientation had led them to their criminal acts, to then transform those values to consideration of the common good. The officials had no training in psychology or group dynamics. They were guided only by their sense of humanity and belief in the potential worth of people, regardless of their previous characters and practices.
Thus, socialist transformation was not a process that could happen overnight. No instant formulas here. Contrary to my naive understanding, even the obvious economic changes that had to take place necessarily occurred in stages. During the transition period, 1949-55, the Peoples government followed a policy of using, restricting and transforming capitalists who owned and operated profit-making businesses. Initially, then, capitalist enterprises were allowed to operate and, at times, were even subsidized by the government. During the next ten years, known as the period of collectivization, some enterprises became wholly state-owned, some became operated by joint state/private management, while others became cooperatives, notably in the handicrafts field. The state, 1956-66, even paid 5 percent interest to the capitalists for their nationalized properties, which amounted to nearly $45,000,000 annually, although some refused the payments to avoid the stigma of a capitalist label. (Who, after all, would want to establish himself openly as a capitalist — the class enemy —in a worker/peasant society?) Land reform has occurred in similar stages. First working their own private plots, the peasants pooled the bulk of the land and worked collectively, while retaining small, private plots.
The amount of land under private cultivation has shifted back and forth, experimentation being the order of the day, although the consistent trend has been toward greater collectivization. Peasants often jointly work their private plots as they do the communal land, and in a few more advanced communes, like Tachai, private plots have been eliminated altogether.
Despite the involvement of the masses in making the revolution, the goals and successes of the revolution were not automatically guaranteed. Dictatorship of the proletariat was not an abstract ideal, but a reality, and one that could be subverted. The recognition of the vulnerability of the revolution was the main point raised by the Cultural Revolution in the consciousness of the Chinese people. This lesson was learned as the masses became involved in the process of criticizing bourgeois tendencies, tendencies that easily could have turned the revolution around, taking it down the path of restoring capitalism and primary consideration of personal and private interests. To defend the revolution against backsliding tendencies frequently meant the whole society halted (schools closed, production stopped) for criticism and cleansing. The Chinese masses involved in criticizing bourgeois tendencies did not immediately understand that they were waging a power struggle. The development of this consciousness was best illustrated in the state- owned Shanghai #17 Cotton Mill, presented to us by one of the original six workers who started the criticism campaign there.
Beginning appreciably earlier than their counterparts elsewhere (July, 1966), six mill workers put up the first big character posters in their factory, exposing and criticizing the revisionist policies of the plant management and the plant Party (CCP) Committee for:
1) totally relying on the technocrats to run the factory, which was breeding the tendency toward bureaucratic entrenchment abdicating the decision-making role of the workers to the experts;
2) using material incentives and bonuses to "stimulate" production, which encouraged self-interested motivation among the workers;
3) promoting "bad elements"* (former criminals or class enemies reforming themselves through labor) to high positions, and employing an unprincipled process in awarding promotions;
4) generally following capitalist principles of development, using profit-oriented cost accounting and emphasizing production (quantitative) as the priority consideration.
Through constant debate and dialogue the Original Six, all of whom were CCP members, slowly gained support for their criticisms, although the response of the Party Committee (PC) was direct and threatening. First the PC tried to split the ranks of the six, criticizing them for publicly exposing matters that belonged in internal Party discussions. Next the PC threatened them with expulsion from the CCP, and later with imprisonment. Nevertheless, the six workers continued to put up critical posters and debated all the more vigorously. Their support grew. The PC then brought in a workers' team to oppose the revolutionaries, and, eventually, rival factions formed. The struggle intensified. When the revolutionaries began seeking out other revolutionary workers from different plants in Shanghai and set up a city-wide rebel organization, the PC turned skillfully to the tactic of economism, to corrupt the workers' revolutionary will. It tried to buy off the workers by raising their wages and welfare funds, and to disburse their leadership by offering them trips around the country to talk with other workers. (It's the same tactic that workers here fall prey to, one of the more notable examples being teachers who initially strike for better classroom conditions or more relevant, creative curricula and end up settling for higher wages and fringe benefits.)
Then, after reading the CCP Secretariat's telegram congratulating rebel workers throughout China for their criticism campaign and urging them to usurp power back from the capitalist leaders, the revolutionary workers of the Shanghai #17 Cotton Mill realized their struggle was of a more serious nature than they had initially understood. They were not just criticizing some aberrant practices of a few managers and cadre, who individually had begun to overlook worker interests. Rather, they were engaged in a struggle over power, and were fighting to save the revolution and workers control. It was a class struggle. The individual managers were not making isolated errors; they were following class policies, policies emanating from their positions of power and privilege. So the workers returned the extra money and, with renewed vigor, continued their struggle, seizing control of their factory by January, 1967. A Revolutionary Committee made up of members elected from the masses of workers (and not necessarily CCP members) became the new management body of the mill, working in coordination with the Party Committee.
(Postscript: One of the Original Six was Wang Hung-wen, who is currently Vice-Chairman of the Peoples Republic. He holds that position, not because he's "popular," young (he's in his thirties) and handsome or, as in our country, because he can raise money and launch a successful election campaign, but because of his political practice.)
The mill workers summed up for us the political lessons they learned from participating in the Cultural Revolution:
1) Understanding the complexity of class struggle is key to the survival of the revolution. The enemies of the worker/peasant revolution are the bourgeois elements who try to subvert the revolution precisely because they seek to maximize their privileged status and pursue personal interests, in total contradiction to the collective principles of the revolution. Therefore, the focus of the struggle for the working masses is power.
2) Contradictions still exist that have contributed to the creation of new, privileged classes and their accompanying self-interested mentality. As long as society is organized to compensate people according to their work (socialist state), rather than according to their need (communist state), the real qualitative and quantitative differences in the work people do will mean that those with greater responsibility and authority will receive greater remuneration. The status and privilege associated with authority, responsibility and a higher standard of living, eventually gets rationalized as a right. These differences will intensify class struggle and, hence, must be nullified. This change of consciousness in accordance with the change of role or status can be seen on our own turf in the example of a Detroit tenants' group that took over the management (not ownership) of their housing complex in 1971, striving to serve their fellow tenants justly, but ended up exhibiting the same insensitive and neglectful attitudes characteristic of the preceding managers against whom they had organized.
3) Given the existence of bourgeois elements and the rise of new privileged classes, the people must be vigilant to safeguard the revolution and guarantee the proletarian dictatorship. In the words of a new CCP member, “Our struggle must never cease. The moment we relax, we have lost. Revolution is a constant process."
Thus, there is no such thing as a complete and final reform. We were assured that China would have many more cultural revolutions. And sure enough, as we left the country in mid-January 1974, big character posters began going up again, criticizing the ideas of Confucius and Lin Piao (former head of the PLA). The campaign focused on exposing the intransigence of old ideas and force of habit, particularly as they relate to the issues of elitism and sexism, by linking the thought of Confucius, who set the 2000 year-old cultural tradition of social inequality, male supremacy and rule by a small, educated elite, with that of Lin Piao who attempted to restore the rule of a few (experts) over the majority. And today, more than a year later, a major campaign is being waged that is exposing and criticizing the notion of "bourgeois right," i.e. the right to privilege and a higher standard of living, espoused by the new privileged classes.
Significant changes were instituted during the Cultural Revolution to help insure the process of revolution and the commitment of cadre to the proletarian dictatorship. Study groups were set up throughout the society-at-large to arm the masses with the principles of Marxism/Leninism and Mao Tse-tung thought, in order to help them wage class struggle, as well as to solve everyday problems. The criticism/self-criticism practice was expanded to involve mass criticism of government policies and debates by disseminating documents of the National Assembly and the CCP Central Committee nationwide. Revolutionary committees, the administrative organs representing the masses, were set up in all institutions — schools, factories, communes, hospitals, dance companies, etc. Most important, cadre schools, which combined practical labor with political study, were set up to correct the orientation and attitudes of cadre (especially teachers) toward the plight of workers and peasants, by having them live with them and share their lives. In industry, cadre began performing physical work (8 hours per week) as part of their weekly duties. Moreover, work was reorganized so as to encourage and utilize the ideas, initiative and expertise of all the workers in solving the problems of development. Result: Every plant we visited was at least 35 days ahead of production.
Major innovations were experimented with throughout the educational system. In an effort to reduce the time spent at book learning, courses and school terms were streamlined. Practical labor became a fundamental part of the curriculum. We saw primary students in Nanking, for instance, making oil filters for the automotive industry and growing vegetables for their own consumption — the practical component of their course work. Student/teacher relationships improved through the practice of studying together, criticizing each other and jointly devising lesson plans and curriculum materials. Grades were abolished and open book exams instituted, in the belief that learning how to retrieve facts is more important than memorizing them. Even more noteworthy, the learning/achievement of the entire class was made the responsibility of each student. The teaching method was also changed from one of lecturing or cramming to one of elicitation, in order to promote student initiative and inquiry. However the process of selecting students for post-secondary level study experienced the most significant reform. In an attempt to counter the trend of cadre's children having the greatest access to higher education (which only enhanced the perpetuation of the developing privileged classes) and to open up advanced study to the most worthy, all middle school graduates must work for at least two years before applying to college. They are selected for further study on the basis of their work (attitude, performance, creativity, theoretical knowledge) by their fellow workers who elect them to learn for the group.
If nothing else, the example of New China demonstrates that a society, even a poor, developing one, can meet human needs, if it is determined to organize and do so. Doing that for one-fourth of humanity is no small feat. Further, it shows that in a planned economy, inflation can be whipped —a remarkable fact given the current inflationary crisis of the wealthy capitalist nations. Development in China has depended on the initiative and self-reliance of the people. Solving problems has rested in their hands. A healthy people, the Chinese are energetic and secure — qualities which result from their sense of participation in and control of their lives.
It's hard not to be impressed. It's important, however, not to write off their brilliant example as "good for the Chinese," and irrelevant to us. Knowing of China assists us in developing a global perspective of our own situation. Some of the more prevalent (critical) notions in our community about "Communist China" are that freedom and opportunity are non-existent, no avenues of mobility are open to common people and ownership of personal things is prohibited. Each statement exposes our own misconceptions, about these concepts even more than they reveal our ignorance of China. Consider how we define freedom in this country. Beyond civil rights, we think of it primarily in individualistic terms — the freedom to do whatever we want at any given moment, to follow any and every whim (as long as it doesn't hurt anyone, although too often that notion gets compromised) and to become whatever we want. We do not define it as the right to eat, to be healthy, to realize one's creative and productive potential or to control and influence the quality of our lives. Democracy for us here does not mean we're in the driver's seat; it merely gives us the right to comment.
For years people have sacrificed and struggled, seeking better opportunities. But beyond the negative (the need to flee oppression and exploitation), how have we positively defined that goal? Opportunity to do what? To get ahead? Ahead of whom? To have a chance to "make it?" To work for oneself? For the most part, opportunity to us has meant improving our lot in terms of what white folks have, or getting a piece of the pie, i.e. partaking of the fruits of American imperialism. We have let a consuming, materialistic orientation deflect us from seeking power.
This blinding orientation encourages us to act, but not in our own interests. For years black people sought military jobs, for example, as good employment. Yet we failed to realize the purpose of the U.S. military presence abroad to maintain the free expansion of American business, to guarantee new frontiers for runaway shops. Those runaway shops cause unemployment here. When the progressive Allende nationalized the copper mines in Chile, which provoked angry outcries here, the copper mines in Idaho and Colorado reopened and miners went back to work. But after the counter-revolutionary coup, Anaconda et al, reactivated their operations in Chile, and the U.S. mines closed again. In our blindness, we often support our own impoverishment.
Thus, a world view clarifies for us who our enemy is. And, once we understand that, we can recognize our victories and re-invest in our struggle here.
*There are two categories of criminals in China. The first is made up of counter-revolutionaries who commit such crimes as murder, arson, rape, corruption, treason and espionage with the aim of counter-revolution. The second category is labeled "bad elements" and consists of those whose crimes are of a less serious nature: theft, blackmail, assault and battery, or those who were con¬ fessed dope dealers, brothel proprietors, oppressive landlords and capitalists, etc. before liberation. Often "bad elements" have been allowed to work in general society and reform their bad habits and attitudes through labor.